Fleet divide

Kate Maudsley brings us her start report from the Rolex Commodore's Cup offshore race

Wednesday August 14th 2002, Author: Kate Maudsley, Location: United Kingdom

Choosing where to be at the start of the long offshore race was very important and while 13 boats opted for the northern end of the line, the other 19 were close to the Royal Yacht Squadron castle, making use of the counter-current that runs along the island shore and aided progress in the 7-8 knots of north-easterly breeze.

It was the island side that showed the initial benefit, but the counter-current ran out at Gurnard and shortly after, about a half mile short of Salt Mead buoy, the wind disappeared as well. Peter Harrison's Chernikeeff 2 (Commonwealth) came to a halt as her spinnaker folded. Nick Hewson's Team Tonic (Wales) joined her in repose and as the smaller boats caught up to the leaders, so too did they.

On the north shore, Peter Morton's Mandrake (Ireland Orange) was the first to show, along with Bear of Britain (England Red), her young crew led by Mark Campbell-James, and in the absence of her part owner, Kit Hobday, on board, it was remarked that they were 'without adult supervision for the offshore race'. It made little difference to the Bear crew, who led the fleet out of the Solent at Hurst Castle, 15 seconds ahead of Mandrake.

Earlier, there had been other signs of risk taking, particularly when Roy Dickson's Cracklin' Rosie (Ireland Green) stayed close to the shore at Stone Point and had to make a sharp turn to port after a slight grounding. Natti Vee (Commonwealth) skippered by Nick Harrison, was the lone early starter, but immediately turned back and was soon in the hunt on the mainland shore.

As Nick's father, Peter, was stationary by Salt Mead, Natti Vee was passing boat after boat and by the time she reached Lymington ­ at about the same time that Chernikeeff 2 had begun to move slowly in the gathering light sea breeze ­ Natti Vee was third boat on the water.

One-by-one the boats on the island shore began to peel off towards the mainland, but it was a matter of their ability to trap the faintest zephyrs and some were not as fortunate as others and remained in the doldrums for longer.

By the time they were at Hurst, Bear of Britain and Mandrake had a nice 10 knot sea breeze and were on their way to the first mark off Poole. It was here that another split occurred with Bear heading down the Needles Channel and Mandrake going for the North Channel. For a moment it looked to be a disaster for Mandrake when she grounded on the Shingles Bank, but she was first to round the Poole No.1 buoy, at 1732, three and a half hours after the start.

The delayed start has meant a shorter-than-expected course, just 125 miles with the second leg south of the Isle of Wight to the Nab Tower and then around a series of buoys between the Owers and Spithead to finish at Gilkicker. It may not please some of the more hardened sailors, one of whom remarked before the start, "I want to get out into the Channel, that's where offshore racing should be." But he might be grateful that because of the fickle breeze, the Royal Ocean Racing Club can shorten the course, if it so desires, at any one of the 11 marks between the Nab and the finish to reduce the tedium of battling strong tides with little or no motive power.

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